Isabella Blow was a fashion icon. She was also a magazine editor, former assistant to Anna Wintour and a muse to countless designers, photographers and artists, including Andy Warhol and Juergen Teller. But of all things she was, she was known for her eye for discovering young talented creatives such as Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Hussein Chalayan and Manolo Blahnik and driving their careers to success.
So it comes as no surprise that after her suicide in 2007, she has become the subject of unchartered fasciation, leading to the creation of obituaries, biographies, films and theatre adaptations all crediting her distinct eccentric style and personality and her passionate bids to integrate young talent into an industry as tough as concrete.
But out of all of the books that have been published, Martina Rink’s collection of letters, illustrations, photographs and speeches from Isabella’s family and friends is by far the most intriguing, offering genuine personal encounters and memories of Blow from the diverse range of people that were closest to her. Amongst the contributors are Philip Treacy, Anna Wintour, Sophie Dahl, Ellen Von Unwerth and Dita Von Teese.
Martina Rink speaks to Fashion editor, Osman Ahmed about her book ‘Isabella Blow’, the work that went into creating it and her memories of working with Isabella as her personal assistant.
Your book is a collection of letters to Isabella from her diverse friends and colleagues, how did you go about compiling the letters and photos?
As I worked for Isabella as her personal assistant I already had the contact details for the people that were featured in the book, all of whom were close friends and colleagues of Isabella, which made it easy for me to approach them and ask them to be a part of the book. I also found tha, people who I knew through Isabella helped me to acquire additional contributors I wouldn’t have been able to have access to.
You were Isabella’s assistant for quite a long period, how did you get the job?
During the international fashion weeks we connected and became friends, leading to one and the other. She ultimately offered me the job as her assistant when she came to need one. Up until her death we regularly saw each other at the Savoia bar in Milan, which became our meeting spot.
What was the first encounter that made you see Isabella as the icon she is today?
I knew she was an icon way before I met her! However, when I met her in person, for the first time, it was been better than I could ever have imagined in my dreams.
What were the lessons and advice that she gave you?
Three simple rules:
1. Always have a pen on you.
2. Always have a watch on you.
3. Red lips get you further in Life!
Isabella was known for being eccentric and humorous, what was your funniest memory of being with Isabella?
Every day was exciting and filled with humour, the most simplest and mundane of things turned out to be a captivating adventure. One of the best things about the book is that it has so many of these adventures, each of which shows the essence of Isabella!
Did she ever dress you up in her wardrobe and famous hats or give you fashion advice?
[Laughs] Yes, of course! Once I dressed up to go to an event, on the way I stopped by her flat to see her and she looked at me and instantly became furious. I was wearing a ballerina net skirt, much to the disapproval of Issy, she thought it was hideous. Before I knew it I was dressed in beautiful head-to-toe in Alexander McQueen! I never wore a hats, she never gave or lent her hats to anyone; they were way too precious. To this day when I’m dressing up for an event I often ask myself whether Issy would approve!
What do you think on the numerous books and films being made and published about Isabella?
I think this woman has given and achieved so much in the fashion industry, as well as the art world, and there can never be enough about her. I am very excited to see more! I’m currently reading Detmar’s Blow by Blow, so you’ll have to wait till I’ve finished to ask me about it!
How would you like the book being received by a younger generation who don’t know who Isabella is?
I definitely think it is very important that people who affine to fashion know the full story of it. A designer is not born a designer, there is history and there are prodigies and they deserve just as much attention, but it is also the responsibility of people who want to go into fashion to want to know as much as they can and see the bigger picture of where it came from! Issy was the best she could be and the book captures that and all the eccentricities and adventures that her family and friends recall.
Isabella Blow by Martina Rink is published by Thames & Hudson, priced £29.95 and available from all major bookshops.
WORDS AND INTERVIEW: Osman Ahmed
IMAGES: Thames & Hudson / Martina Rink